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Christopher Nolan among filmmakers hailing tax relief for independent UK movies

British filmmakers Christopher Nolan, Richard Curtis and Emerald Fennell have welcomed a tax relief for UK independent movies which has been hailed as “game changing” for new talent.

During the final Budget before the general election, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced the Government will provide eligible film studios in England with 40% relief on gross business rates until 2034.

He said the tax credit will be focused on UK independent films with a budget of less than £15 million.

North-east England is also hoping to become a major destination for film and TV productions after striking a deal with the Government which will provide the region with the tools to create “one of Europe’s largest filmmaking complexes” in Sunderland.

Oppenheimer director Nolan and his wife Emma Thomas, who was a producer on the blockbuster, said in a joint statement: “Independent and lower-budget filmmaking is where we had our start and where new voices and innovations vital to the entire industry are born.

“This enhanced tax relief builds on the incredible work already being done by British filmmakers and will create new opportunities for British crews, filmmakers and cast members for years to come.”

London-born Nolan made several short films at the early stages of his career before going on to create a host of major blockbusters including Inception, Interstellar and the Dark Knight trilogy.

His latest film, in which Irish star Cillian Murphy plays theoretical physicist J Robert Oppenheimer – described as the father of the atomic bomb – has swept awards season, winning a string of Baftas and being nominated for 13 Oscars.

Love Actually and Notting Hill filmmaker Curtis, and Fennell, who directed psychological thrillers Saltburn and Promising Young Woman, were also among the British talent to support the relief as well as Luther star Idris Elba, Doctor Strange actress Tilda Swinton, Belfast director Sir Kenneth Branagh and Skyfall filmmaker Sir Sam Mendes.

Opening night gala Saltburn – BFI London Film Festival 2023
Emerald Fennell arrives for the opening night gala of Saltburn at the BFI London Film Festival (Ian West/PA)

Bond producer Barbara Broccoli described the move as “game changing” for the sector.

“It will ensure that our screen industry will continue to thrive by giving opportunities to a diversity of new talent both on and off the screen for future generations of filmmakers,” she added.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Sir Steve McQueen, who was behind 12 Years A Slave, said he “strongly” backed the move as independent films are “extremely important”.

The Budget also included a devolution deal between the Government and north-east England to enhance the UK’s position in the global film and end TV industry.

The deal will provide Sunderland City Council and the North East Mayoral Combined Authority with the “tools” to create Crown Works Studios, and the authorities have confirmed they plan to invest up to £120 million in the project.

The studios, which include a plan for 20 sound stages, are expected to create more than 8,000 jobs in the region.

Leo Pearlman, managing partner at Fulwell 73, a production company involved in the project, described the deal as a “historic moment” for Sunderland, the North East and the UK’s screen industries.

Richard Curtis
Richard Curtis (Luke MacGregor/PA)

“Crown Works Studios will help transform the city we love into a global hub for big budget film and TV production,” he added.

“Britain’s creative sector is at its best when industry and the public sector share the same vision and work together to deliver it, so I’m hugely grateful for the backing of the new North East Mayoral Combined Authority and for the partnership between them, Fulwell 73 and Sunderland City Council.”

During the Budget announcements, Mr Hunt also recognised the importance of the music sector in the UK by making tax reliefs for orchestral productions permanent at 45%.

The current temporary 50% rate, introduced during the pandemic to protect performers, was due to taper down from April 2025 and drop eventually to its original rate of 25%.

The interim chief executive of trade body UK Music welcomed the Chancellor listening to calls about support for orchestras, but questioned the backing for other sectors.

“The Government should use this opportunity to clarify our further calls as to whether touring choirs and other singing groups are also eligible for this important relief,” Tom Kiehl added in a statement.

BBC Proms 2020
BBC Symphony Orchestra (Chris Christodoulou/BBC/PA)

“We welcome the indirect benefit to music of the introduction of other creative sector tax reliefs and seek further Government consideration for the introduction of a tax credit to encourage new UK music production.”

The chief executive of the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), John Rostron, said he was disappointed at the lack of support for the sector.

He said festivals need a temporary reduction in VAT on ticket sales from 20% to 5% to help them to recover from the impact of Covid and Brexit and to protect future events.

Mr Rostron said the financial strain on festivals is forcing them to postpone or cancel months before they are due to take place.

The theatre sector also received a tax relief of 40% for productions and 45% for touring shows, and the AIF boss urged the Chancellor to offer similar support for music festivals.